Emma Rosenthal discusses class, privilege and racism:
“There are real privileges, such as George W. Bush getting into Yale, or inheritance, or power of the ruling class, and then there are rights, that not everyone has. But we fall in the trap of calling them privilege– housing, a job, income, access, citizenship, a voice, health care, etc. and we get loopy ideas like “deprivileging jewish voices”, where we start to diminish each other’s rights, which is foolish. Why would we want to deprivilege any voice that is getting heard at all? (assuming it’s true!). For the working class, the issue isn’t who has and who doesn’t have privilege but who has and doesn’t have certain rights. The problem comes in with assumptions, which is the real privilege. So for example, when someone who is not dis-abled insists my dis-ability is all in my head, because whenever she doesn’t feel well she says a prayer, does some yoga, or thinks positive, and her cold goes away, and projects her experience on to me, that’s a privileged assumption. When people who don’t speak engish as a first language enter a facebook thread, and get teased for their english, that’s a privileged assumption, because of the hegemony of english. When someone says “why don’t immigrants come in legally. like my friend did?” that’s a privileged assumption. It’s not that the friend shouldn’t have been able to enter the country legally, but that everyone should, without racist quotas, or other barriers to immigration (sexual orientation, political position, dis-ability). It’s the assertion of “my experience” as “proof” that a problem doesn’t exist, or that it’s the fault of the victim, that is the privilege, not the actual exercise of the right.
A man should be able to get a job without someone asking him if or assuming that his family responsibilities might get in the way. Getting a job isn’t privilege. It’s a right. He’s not violated anyone’s rights by getting a job. we don’t want to perpetuate that idea. We need to universalize rights, not oppression. So it’s not just the assumption on the part of the person who has more rights, but also the society that confers them.
Too much of the left is about diminishing each other, which is fine for those for whom activism is 1. about feeding their own narcissism, or 2. assuaging their guilt. But for those of us who really need social change, these divisions of who has more than whom, just have no place in real movement building.
Racism and its applications to avoid culpability– like white Christians who avoid looking at white privilege (along with upper and middle class diaspora Palestinians) and claim it’s obvious and not an issue anymore, while focusing on “jewish privilege” so they can jockey for position within a movement, isn’t just a privilege of assumption, it’s an assertion of very real privilege, though one that serves the ruling class, more than petit bourgeois activists who are more interested in half measures.’